BRIGANTINE — The view of the ocean from houses on 27th Street South is a lot better now that several large pine trees were removed from the dunes this week.
Now the city faces criticism that trees on public land were cut down at the request of private landowners.
But one of those owners said that the trees were taken down because they were a non-native species that pushes out other vegetation and sheds needles that can become fire hazards — which led at least one other shore town to remove them entirely. The owner also says that they paid for removal themselves after getting a permit from the city.
The Japanese black pines were planted there years ago by volunteers with the Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County, said nearby resident and Brigantine Taxpayers Association member Anne Phillips.
“The evidence indicates that the sole motive for cutting down the (trees) was to enable the nearby private property owners to see the ocean from their decks,” Phillips said in a statement. “It appears they assumed they had such a ‘right’ because they are taxpayers. What about the rights of the rest of Brigantine’s taxpayers and the public interest in protecting our island’s dunes and maintaining the useful and eye-pleasing benefits (including shade) of these trees?”
Nearby homeowner Josh Brodkin, meanwhile, said that “those trees shouldn’t have been there to begin with.”
“It’s public ground, and they were planted here 15 years ago so they could have shade when walking to the beach,” Brodkin said. “It’s the same thing as if I planted a tree in front of your house because I wanted shade when walking my dog.”
Referring to similar tree removals in Avalon, which conducted a study on the impact of the trees, Brodkin said that “Japanese black pines are known to be bad for the ecosystem of dunes.”
The city, when asked for comment, forwarded a 2011 letter from City Engineer Ed Stinson in which he also cited the Avalon study.
“A thorough examination of the impact of the Black Pines on the dune system and environs ... identified the Japanese Black Pine tree as an invasive species in the oceanfront dune system and concluded the removal of the tree benefits both the ecology of the dunes and provides for public safety,” the letter stated. “The Japanese Black Pine is not indigenous to the coastal beach and has become invasive to other native species in the dune system.”
The pine trees replace native species, create a haven for pests and pathogens, and their dry pine needles create conditions for brush fires, the letter stated. Avalon has been removing the trees and replanting native species in its place, which includes leaving the stump and root system in place to stabilize the dunes.
Stinson also stated that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection allows Brigantine to remove the trees from the dunes without a CAFRA permit.
Brodkin said that he and about five or six other homeowners contributed about $20,000 for a private company to remove the dunes, after requesting and receiving a permit from the city. Stinson said in a separate email that those permits include the replacement of equal number of plants and a donation of $25 per tree to the Brigantine Garden Club.
Phillips, meanwhile, still believes that the view was the main motive, not the environmental reasons.
“The motive of the private individuals who hired and paid the company which did the job had nothing to do with ecology and conservation,” Phillips stated. “It appears this questionable, self-serving motive was made clear to the company.”
Several beachgoers Sunday sided with those mourning the trees.
“You;re talking about a private landowner making demands on public land, and that’s not right,” said Craig Siman, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township. “There’s always a big to-do about the view. In my opinion, if you want a view of the ocean, take a little walk down the path and set up on the other side. There’s your view.”
“You never should cut down greenery like that unless absolutely necessary, and that’s a shame,” said Jane Lee, of Pennsauken, Camden County. “But you can’t do anything about it, now that it’s done.”
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello